Millions of Americans may be getting the wrong treatment to prevent a heart attack or stroke, a new study suggests. Prescriptions for blood-thinning aspirin, cholesterol-lowering statins and blood pressure medications might be incorrect because a tool that estimates risk appears to be off by as much as 20 percent, Stanford University researchers reported. That means almost 12 million Americans could have the wrong medication, according to the team led by Dr. Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine. It appears medications are overprescribed in many cases. But for black patients, outdated risk calculations may actually underestimate risk, the study authors said. Risk estimate tools predict the likelihood of a future heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years. Doctors use these tools to help them decide what treatment a patient needs, if any at all. But these tools are only helpful if they’re accurate. There’s been concern that some of the statistical methods used to develop a commonly used risk estimate tool in 2013 may be prone to miscalculating risk. “What initially prompted us to do this study was a patient I had, an African-American gentleman who I thought was at pretty high risk for a heart attack or stroke. But when I put his information into the web calculator, it returned a bizarrely low-risk estimate,” explained Basu. When he looked into this issue,…  read on >

A computer can beat even highly experienced dermatologists in spotting deadly melanomas, researchers report. The study is the latest to test the idea that “artificial intelligence” can improve medical diagnoses. Typically, it works like this: Researchers develop an algorithm using “deep learning” — where the computer system essentially mimics the brain’s neural networks. It’s exposed to a large number of images — of breast tumors, for example — and it teaches itself to recognize key features. The new study pitted a well-honed computer algorithm against 58 dermatologists, to see whether machine or humans were better at differentiating melanomas from moles. It turned out the algorithm was usually more accurate. It missed fewer melanomas, and was less likely to misdiagnose a benign mole as cancer. That does not mean computers will someday be diagnosing skin cancer, said lead researcher Dr. Holger Haenssle, of the University of Heidelberg in Germany. “I don’t think physicians will be replaced,” Haenssle said. Instead, he explained, doctors could use artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool. “In the future, AI may help physicians focus on the most suspicious skin lesions,” Haenssle said. A patient might, for instance, undergo whole-body photography (a technology that’s already available), then have those images “interpreted” by a computer algorithm. “In the next step,” Haenssle explained, “the physician may examine only those lesions labeled as ‘suspicious’ by the…  read on >

Hit-and-run deaths in the United States reached a record high in 2016, a new report shows. “Hit-and-run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Our analysis shows that hit-and-run crashes are a growing traffic safety challenge and the AAA Foundation would like to work with all stakeholders to help curtail this problem,” he added in a news release from the foundation. Hit-and-run deaths in the United States rose an average of 7 percent a year since 2009, with more than 2,000 deaths reported in 2016. That’s the highest number on record and a 60 percent increase since 2009, the authors of the report said. The highest per-capita rates of such deaths were in New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida, while the lowest rates were in New Hampshire, Maine and Minnesota. Nearly 65 percent of people killed in hit-and-runs in the United States are pedestrians and bicyclists. Over the past 10 years, nearly 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths were due to hit-and-runs. That’s compared to just 1 percent of all driver deaths in that same time period. Since 2006, there has been an average of 682,000 hit-and-run accidents a year according to the findings, which were released April 26. Jennifer Ryan, director of state relations for AAA, said that “it…  read on >

Your cellphone puts the world at your fingertips, but it can wreak havoc with your neck. There’s even a name for the pain you get when looking down at your screen — “text neck” — and it can cause problems along the entire length of your spine. Bending your head forward multiplies the amount of weight your neck muscles need to support. Normally your neck supports the 10 pounds that your head weighs, but when bending forward it may need to support the equivalent of 60 pounds. The following tips from the University of California’s Ergonomics Injury Prevention Program can help. Find the best angle. The best viewing angle is a bit below eye level, so remember to adjust the way you hold your phone. Give it a rest. Being constantly bent over looking at your screen or contorting yourself to view your smartphone from different angles can cause problems. Take frequent breaks and use that time to stretch your neck, shoulders and back. Make adjustments. Your smartphone comes with myriad ways to adjust how you use it. Learn how to change the settings for font size, contrast and brightness to make it easier to see the screen — that helps to avoid eye strain, which can lead to headaches. How you hold your phone also makes a difference. You should frequently change the way…  read on >

Even though they know it’s dangerous, many American drivers still talk on a cellphone or text while behind the wheel, a new survey finds. In fact, the number of drivers who say they talk regularly or fairly often on their cellphone while driving has actually risen 46 percent since 2013, the pollsters say. More than 2,600 licensed drivers, aged 16 and older, were questioned for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey. Nearly 58 percent said talking on a cellphone while driving is a very serious threat to their safety, while 78 percent said texting is a significant danger. Yet nearly half of the respondents said they recently talked on a hand-held phone while driving. And more than one-third had sent a text or email while driving, according to the survey. “With more than 37,000 deaths on U.S. roads in 2016, we need to continue finding ways to limit driving distractions and improve traffic safety,” said David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The foundation’s work offers insight on drivers’ attitudes toward traffic safety and their behaviors, so we can better understand the issue and identify potential countermeasures to reduce crashes,” he added in a foundation news release. Drivers talking on a cellphone are up to four times more likely to crash, and those who text are up to eight times…  read on >

Millions of Americans buy marijuana online illegally, a new study found. “Anyone, including teenagers, can search for and buy marijuana from their smartphone, regardless of what state they live in,” said study leader John Ayers. He’s an associate research professor at San Diego State University’s School of Public Health. In the study, Ayers’ team examined Google searches about buying marijuana by Americans between January 2005 and June 2017. During that time, there was a threefold increase in such searches, peaking at between 1.4 million and 2.4 million searches a month. Marijuana shopping searches were highest in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state, where recreational marijuana use is legal. But such searches increased each year in all but two states — Alabama and Mississippi. That suggests online shopping for the drug is increasing nationwide, the researchers said. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that broadly expand the legal use of marijuana. The researchers also found that 41 percent of marijuana shopping search results linked to retailers advertising mail-order marijuana delivered through the U.S. Postal Service, commercial parcel companies or private couriers. Online sales of marijuana are illegal, even in states that have fully or partially legalized the drug, “but clearly these regulations are failing,” said study co-author Eric Leas, a research fellow at Stanford University. Immediate action is needed to halt online…  read on >